Castles are a formidable, almost enchanting feature in many places around the world. But often, the grizzly details of their pasts paint a horrific story—and lend themselves to contemporary hauntings. Here are 13 castles that entice both the living and the dead.
This 13th-century estate is known as one of the most haunted castles in Ireland. It was long owned by the O’Carrol family. Legend has it that there was a fatal power struggle among the O’Carrols in the 16th century. In a bid for power after their patriarch died, one member of the family killed his brother, a priest. Visitors today have reported seeing a priest wandering the “Bloody Chapel.”
But it gets worse. In the 1990s, renovators found a “secret dungeon” in the chapel filled with dozens of skeletons. People claim the dungeon had a trap door through which the O’Carrol’s prisoners would fall onto wooden spikes and die a painful death out of earshot from chapel visitors.
2. Houska Castle // Blatce, Czech Republic
Houska Castle is an odd sight to behold. It doesn’t have a kitchen or basic amenities. But it does have one thing that no other castle in the world has: a huge hole in the ground that is rumored to be a gateway to Hell. According to local lore, the castle was built atop the bottomless abyss to seal it, preventing demons from escaping and walking the Earth.
But before this hole was covered, it’s said there was a time when prisoners were offered their freedom in exchange for a dangerous exploration of the hole. After the first man was lowered into the hole, he let out a curdling scream. Legend has it that when they pulled him out of the hole, he’d aged 30 years.
Ingeborg Skeel, a wealthy Danish noblewoman who owned and managed a lot of land, moved into Voergaard Castle in 1578. She was said to be cruel and conniving (though it's more likely people despised her financial prowess and business skills and cast her as a wicked woman, as they often did with independent women at the time). Legend says that not long after she made the castle her home, she drowned its architect so he could never make a more beautiful fortress. But it’s not the architect’s ghost that people say they see today—it’s Skeel’s.
Voergaard Castle also has some chilling features that lodge themselves into visitors’ brains. One of the fortress’s dungeons was designed so that a grown human could neither stand up nor lie down while inside of it. And there are no holes for light or air.
4. Himeji Castle // Himeji, Japan
This imposing abode was built in 1333, and thanks to later renovations, is generally considered to be one of Japan’s finest examples of early 17th-century castle architecture. But it has a bit of a dark history as well. One legend says that a woman named Okiku was falsely accused of losing or breaking valuable dishes within the castle (other versions of the story say she turned down a cruel samurai’s advances). As a consequence, she was thrown into the well and drowned. Today, visitors head to the castle to see if they can catch a glance of Okiku roaming the halls, counting dishes.
In the late 1600s, Moosham Castle was home to a series of horrific events. Dozens of people were tortured and executed there after being accused of witchcraft. It was not the last time the castle would be the stage for allegations of the supernatural. Two centuries later, after a bunch of cattle and deer were mysteriously found dead around the property, local residents were accused of being werewolves and murdered. Today, visitors to the castle often report hearing banging noises, seeing unusual footprints, and even feeling something breathing over their shoulders.
6. Bran Castle // Bran, Romania
Bran Castle in Romania may have a connection to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. According to some sources, Count Dracula was based on Vlad III Dracula, who was known as “Vlad the Impaler” because he stabbed his victims to death. And some of these deaths were believed to have taken place in Bran Castle, which, naturally, is thought to be a hub for paranormal activity.
This castle was built in 1914, complete with an array of secret passages and rooms. Casa Loma is known to many for its appearances in various TV shows and movies like X-Men (2000) and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). But celebrities aren’t the only intriguing figures who’ve roamed its halls.
The most frequent appearance seems to be of a woman dressed in white. But some visitors have reported hearing a distressed old man, while others suspect the castle’s first owners haunt its grounds.
8. Edinburgh Castle // Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh Castle looms large in the Scottish capital’s skyline. The whole city has a pretty haunted vibe, so it’s no surprise the fortress has a few ghost stories of its own.
According to legend, the voice of a young bagpiper who vanished without a trace hundreds of years ago can still be heard in the halls of the castle. Visitors to Edinburgh Castle also report seeing people dressed in attire from the American Revolutionary War, and have claimed to witness a dog wandering around.
Chillingham Castle has a long, brutal history—the estate even has its own torture chamber. It’s said to be haunted by some of the unfortunate souls who passed through the castle. Among the most common supernatural reports are those of a “Blue Boy” who is believed to dwell in the building’s Pink Room. The blue-clad boy is heard wailing at midnight near the spot where local lore says a child’s skeleton and bits of blue cloth were found in the 1920s. Because some guests have reported seeing bursts of blue lights, the eerie figure is also known as the “Radiant Boy.”
10. Tower of London // London, England
England’s 12th-century Tower of London has seen a tremendous amount of death throughout its long history. It’s said some high-profile prisoners still linger. Anne Boleyn is commonly believed to be one of the most persistent ghosts in the tower, haunting the place where she lost her head. Other reports also suggest that the ghosts of King Henry VI, Lady Jane Grey and her husband Lord Guildford Dudley, and Margaret Pole could still roam the fortress today.
Italy’s Castello di Montebello is among the country’s most haunted locations. According to the lore, a previous owner named Lord Ugolinuccio and his wife had a child named Guendolina. The girl had albinism, which was said to be a sign of the devil at the time (Guendolina’s mother would dye her daughter’s hair to disguise the condition).
According to one legend, Guendolina was playing with a ball one stormy night. After the ball fell down the stairs, she chased after the toy, then disappeared into thin air—never to be seen again. Many people believe the vanished girl’s ghost still walks the castle halls.
12. Eltz Castle // Wierschem, Germany
Germany’s Eltz Castle looks like a fairytale building plopped amid the forested hills. But though picturesque, the 12th-century fortress has witnessed a nightmarish tragedy that still haunts the grounds today. One of the spookiest rooms in the castle is the bedroom of Agnes Eltz, a 16th-century resident. She was killed after a knight she slighted invaded the castle to seek his revenge. It’s said Eltz still wanders the halls and lingers in the room where she died while defending her home.
The Château de Blandy-Les-Tours is a stunning feature in the Loire Valley. It’s known for its “Green Lady,” an apparition that is believed to be the ghost of Charlotte, Charles VII’s illegitimate daughter. She lived at the castle with her husband, Jacques de Breze, in the 15th century. It was an unhappy marriage that ended in brutality: de Breze murdered Charlotte after he caught her cheating on him with one of her huntsmen.